Another Outposter contribution wings its way to us from Wrenage, a veritable powerhouse of Retro Reviews. This time around he tackles an old favorite from 1990 which is, unbelievably, 32 years ago. Where has the time gone? Well, we probably spent it watching movies like this as we kept our local VHS rental stores in business. Good times! Here’s Wrenage with his Retro Review of The First Power.
The First Power
I missed many movies in my youth. Every now and then memories of them bubble up in my brain. Thanks to streaming, these movies can often be found. The First Power (1990) is one such movie. I remember previews for it, particularly of a man jumping off a building. A girl in school also noticed the preview and talked about it in class. This led to an elaborate fantasy where I would ask her to see The First Power and then ask for her hand in marriage… after which, we’d buy a house, have 2.4 kids, and talk about our day over meatloaf in a series of grunts and nods.
The First Power plot is simple: loose-cannon cop tries to stop a supernatural satanic serial killer.
Said loose-cannon cop is played by Lou Diamond “My Head Is 12 Percent Too Wide” Phillips. Phillips has worked in movies for 38 years. He’s been in big stuff (Young Guns) and not-so-big stuff (Supernova). Some might call La Bamba his standout role. I always think of The Big Hit first. Phillips achieves a level of comic cocky machismo in that movie that a person could bottle and sell to boys who think about asking a girl to a movie, but never do…
Phillips doesn’t quite fit the role of a loose-cannon cop. His black trench coat and gray slacks ensemble, along with coiffed hair, makes him more Vidal-Sassoon than loose-cannon. A different wardrobe would have made the role play better. Otherwise, Phillips’ performance is within tolerance.
Jeff Kober plays the villain. Similar to Brian Thompson, his face looks to have striated muscle as if he does facial exercises regularly (how much can your cheeks bench, bro?). Kober has also been active in film for more than 30 years. The First Power is one of his larger roles.
Kober is also within tolerance. What stands out is how much jumping his character does. Such wire-work, tame as it is by today’s standards, would have stood out in 1990 when everything was earth-bound. In that regard, The First Power could have achieved a degree of freshness.
Acting-wise, Kober goes the I’m-having-fun-being-psycho route. They attempt to give his character depth beyond that, but his backstory is only lightly touched upon. They probably should have included a bit on the process of how he went from his backstory persona to his satanic-killer persona. The villain simply does supernatural things as a matter of course.
Tracy Griffith plays the love interest and psychic who helps Phillips catch the killer. Griffith did not have a large film career and is now a well-known sushi chef. The thing that stood out about Griffith is that she becomes more beautiful as the movie goes along. She turns into a different woman as she ditches the business attire, dons active-wear, and lets her hair go all feathery.
Rounding out the cast is a selection of recognizable actors: Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump), Carmen Argenziano (229 acting credits), Mark Bringelson (Lawnmower Man), and Brian Libby (Silent Rage). David Gale (Re-Animator) even makes a brief appearance. None of them provide anything substantial to the story, however. They merely pop in and say “hello”.
The film was written and directed by Robert Resnikoff. His other biggest film of note was a buddy comedy with Pat Morita and Jay Leno called Collison Course (1989). Resnikoff oversees the film in comfort-food fashion. Action happens, but it’s a smidge inert. You can tell Resnikoff saw something entertaining in his head but couldn’t quite dig it out for the camera.
Nevertheless, The First Power ended up being a modest hit. It cost $10 million to make and ended up grossing $22 million. The movie originally had a different ending, but the studio saw sequel potential and ponied up a bit more cash to jazz up its climax. The climax is still not particularly jazzy, but it’s a little neo-noir horror film from 1990. Expectations should be adjusted accordingly.
The interesting thing about The First Power is that it almost serves as a rough draft for Fallen, which came out in 1997 and starred Denzel Washington. Resnikoff was definitely onto something. Let’s get this property fired back up and give him $150 million to fully realize his vision!
Speaking of Fallen, I wonder why Harlan Ellison didn’t sue the creators of Fallen for some basic similarity to his Mefisto In Onyx novella, which came out in 1993. If he won with the Terminator lawsuit, he had a chance. Maybe it is because Ellison was inspired by The First Power?
I doubt it, but it’s fun to bring up Mefisto In Onyx because of its odd structure. It is 85 percent first act, 5 percent second act, and 10 percent third act. The entire first act is a conversation between a man and a woman at lunch. Ellison was a beast when it came to delivering style. He could make a story that was 85 percent conversation compelling due to his way with prose. Some may call him one-note beyond that, which is not unreasonable, but he had voice in abundance.
Back to The First Power… it’s a middling movie, but it’s watchable. It feels like a made-for-cable movie that one would come upon late at night and be pleasantly surprised by because they’re bored. The story demands little of the viewer as Lou Diamond Phillips and his psychic lady friend chase a jumping killer around and occasionally get vague advice from a nun.
In the long run, it’s probably best that I didn’t take a girl to The First Power in 1990 and then propose marriage to her. The First Power is not a solid enough foundation for a relationship. Still, it would have been a fun date for a couple of kids.